Orbit | 2017 (19 October) | 593p | Review copy | Buy the book
Forbidden Suns completes the Silence trilogy begun with Forsaken Skies and continuing on with Forgotten Worlds. You really don’t want to read Forbidden Suns – or this review – without having read the others. This review assumes you know what has gone on before.
Ashlay Bullam is prepared to follow Aleister Lanoe to the end of the universe in her determination to see this elderly war hero known as the Blue Devil – and her bitter enemy – dead. And when she orders her mad captain to follow Lanoe’s vessel through a wormhole she might as well have done just that. For as the wormhole disintegrates around them they find themselves many thousands of light years from home. But Lanoe has more on his mind that Bullam. He is on the hunt for the alien species that wants to destroy humanity, just as it has killed every other intelligent species it has encountered over the last hundreds of millions of years. There is nothing he won’t do to achieve his goal. There is nothing he won’t demand of his crew to make it happen.
Forbidden Suns follows on directly from Forgotten Worlds but this time the action takes place far from the Galaxy’s human colonies and far from the war between the Navy (fought for by Lanoe) and Centrocor (represented by Bullam). Not that this means that they can’t bring it with them. They are now deep inside the territory of the Blue-Blue-White and its immense alienness and danger menaces them in every direction. But Lanoe wants more than to stop these fearful creatures, he wants revenge and it couldn’t be more personal. With very little chance of ever making it home again, the Navy and Centrocor crews will have to work together to survive but the greatest danger they face may well come, not from the alien enemy, but from one of their own.
This is such a powerful trilogy. I’ve become heavily invested in its characters, most especially the wonderful Valk, an AI unlike any other, Ehta (the pilot afraid of flying) and Ginger, whose sacrifice is unequalled and truly terrifying. We have watched these people’s relationships evolve as they’ve faced the utmost danger head on, time after time. There are others who provoke more ambiguous feelings, notably Bullam and Maggs but even they have redeeming features (although I’m not sure I’d say the same for the wonderful creation of Captain Shulkin). In Forgotten Worlds we were introduced to the extraordinary Chorus aliens and, I’m pleased to say, they continue to play a role here. But at the heart of this novel is Lanoe and Valk as well as the brave pilots whose dogfights in this most hostile and remote expanse of space are both exhilaratingly thrilling and deadly.
Forgotten Worlds is a very hard act to follow. I loved this novel, most especially for its depiction of such strange aliens and worlds. It had the fantastic feel of a First Contact novel while also throwing us into the heart of a war that appears almost impossible to win. It contained so much of the wonder that I love with science fiction. Forbidden Suns is a different kettle of fish and that’s largely due to the transformation in Lanoe’s character. He hasn’t been the easiest man to like at the best of times but in this final novel any liking I did have was fully extinguished. This change in attitude is a major theme of the novel, as is the continued fascinating transformation of Valk, but that does mean that I was distanced from the book in a way that I haven’t experienced before with this trilogy.
There is much here that is grim, tragic and sad. There’s also bitterness, anger, desperation and madness. We see this time after time and what some characters must endure is unbearable. The substantial length of the novel makes the gloom difficult to cope with at times. But I have so much invested time in these characters and the author has brought me so deeply into their inner torment that I had to see it through. The author has room enough to delve deeply into these conflicts and create a universe in which so much is at stake. But for me it was a little too dark and claustrophobic, especially in comparison with the previous novels. I must also mention that I didn’t like the end at all.
So I am a little conflicted. I have loved this trilogy and Forbidden Suns went straight to the top of my reading pile as soon as it arrived. I really enjoy D. Nolan Clark’s writing and his ability to create three-dimensional characters and fully involved relationships between them, even when they are surrounded and consumed by military conflict. These are exciting books, Forbidden Suns is no different, with plenty of dogfights and daring raids. And the alien world is brilliantly frightening and immense. But it’s the characters that stay with you the most. So while I didn’t especially enjoy the directions in which they were led during this final novel, I still had to watch them every step of the way. I can only wonder now where D. Nolan Clark will take us to next.